“When we ‘find’ our bones and allow them to assume a supporting role, muscles can start to relax. It is in the ‘undoing’ of muscles that freedom in the joints is found – and with it, greater ease in movement.” Peter Blackaby, Intelligent Yoga
How might you explore this and how might it help in finding more ease in your life, less pain, or fatigue?
Try noticing if you’re holding tension or contracting a muscle that’s not required for whatever it is you’re doing. So for example, I often suggest a person balance on one leg and notice if this creates any noticeable tension in their upper body, or jaw in order to do so. Obviously you don’t need your jaw muscles to contract to stand on one leg, but might this happen without you being aware of it?
How might you learn to release this? To relax, let go of what’s unnecessary. I think it can often be more helpful to imagine softening, rather than ‘letting go or relaxing”. How often have you been told to “just relax….”. Easier said than done.
One of my teachers used words suggesting this relaxed tone in our tissues “might feel like the texture of a soft, ripe peach.” Or I can imagine how the muscle tone feels in a baby or young child compared to what I notice in myself at times.
Make the biggest smile you can. Big, huge cheeks. Feel the tissue around your cheeks, maybe your throat, neck and perhaps even your shoulders. Just notice. Or clench your mouth, teeth really hard. Now, let your jaw hang loose. Open your mouth. Feel around again. Notice the difference.
I’ll often suggest people lay down on the floor to rest. Not your bed, not the sofa, but the floor.
Why is that?
When you lay on the floor it’s usually easier to feel the support of the ground below, in contact with your bones. So you might feel your head supported, shoulders, pelvis, legs and feet. See if you can notice that and does this allow your muscles to soften a little? This can be really hard to do. Something you might try is to first tense or contract a muscle (like we did above) and then release it so you can notice the difference.
The first step however, is just in noticing. Like anything, by practicing this you’ll often be able to sense more easily when there is tension ‘held’ in your muscles that you’re not aware of. Tension that might contribute to other changes in your body and likely fatigue, over the longer term. How might that influence pain?
The second step might then be, how to find support. Curious to explore this further?
Creating New Pathways: change your pain, change your life begins this Wednesday, July 22nd. For more information or to register:
I could really go on and on about breath, from many different angles and actually have been sent down the rabbit hole for a few days now wondering how I might approach this, in a single blog post.
Our breath, the in-breath and the out-breath happen quite naturally, right? Of course, they do. It is one of the most important things necessary to our survival. We do not have to think about it. It is just one of the many wonderous systems in our body, working behind the scenes.
However, if you look at how a baby breathes, and how many of us older folks breathe, you might notice a difference. How in babies and young children it almost seems like their whole body moves when they breathe. How their big, soft bellies expand with each inhale. For us, often, not so much.
There could be a whole mess of reasons, but the one I’ll explore here is one you’ve perhaps been exploring over the past week.
Muscular tension might be involved when we hold our breath, or when it doesn’t flow so freely.
Generally, muscles and tissues may become strained, fatigued over time if they are recruited, or over-recruited, ‘switched on’ a lot. We may not be aware of this, particularly if ongoing over a long period of time. It often becomes our usual ‘pattern’ rather than what might be a responding or releasing (and relaxing) as required.
There are also some areas of the body where this tension might get in the way of a full, easeful, ‘natural’ breath we see in a baby. I think of the stomach or belly area for one. How many people unconsciously hold or constrict in this area for a multitude of reasons? This, which happens to be the area containing your primary breathing muscle, the respiratory diaphragm. Or might someone hold tension unconsciously in their pelvic floor (diaphragm) muscles, again for a variety of reasons? I think of all those ‘core exercises’ we’ve been told are good for us or how often women socially, culturally, ‘suck in their stomach. Or perhaps you’ve been told to do kegels at one time or another, or hold, strengthen or tighten up your pelvic floor muscles. Which may be useful. Or maybe not.
Both diaphragms are meant to move with each breath yet with tension and tightness in one or both, might this change how we breathe?
Holding tension might not allow for a full, deep breath such as when our respiratory diaphragm moves down, creating the in-breath. Maybe, we hold tension in the pelvic floor, without realizing it and again, not allowing for optimal breath.
Now, think about what is more important to our body, to our brain, but breathing. And how this regular intake of oxygen not only provides nourishment our body needs to survive, but it also forms or influences our physiological state. For instance if we are under threat, or even perceived threat there are immediate changes to our physiology, including our breath, that takes place to aid in our survival.
Which is all great when we’ve broken a bone, need to pull our hand away from fire, stay clear of toxic fumes or something similar. Back in the old days, we would need all our senses, these sensations, to help us stay clear of dangerous predators like tigers and the like.
What happens now though, is often we are unaware of:
1. The threats (real or perceived) that we encounter on a daily basis. These aren’t likely threats like running from tigers, but threats in terms of our relationships, our jobs, our finances, our communities, our environment. How much of the news do you see, threatens your sense of safety? Does this create a sense of tension, stress, holding of your breath perhaps, in your body?
2. The response of your nervous system and subsequent physiology that accompanies this. You may have read that stress is not good for the immune system, for your mental health, etc. but there are also effects on other areas or systems that occur including your pain system. If pain is meant to protect you, yet you ‘feel’ threatened, stressed, and tense might that turn UP the volume of pain? Have you ever noticed a correlation (not saying cause, here) in your stress levels and your pain?
Conversely, how might a sense of safety, turn DOWN the volume of pain? Even a few simple words from a parent to a child such as “you’ll be okay” often turns down a pain response.
Can we learn to notice our breath and what that might tell us about how we feel?
Can we find a breath that is supportive for us, when it’s called upon?
Can we find a breath that is supportive for for us, when we need rest, find calm, sleep?
There is no right or wrong in this.
Rather, can we find a responsive, flexible breath that supports us for whatever it is we’d like to do? To live in an optimal state of health? As a first step, can be begin to notice this at all?
Personally, attention to breath and subsequent practices has had the most influence I find, when working with people who experience persistent pain. Time and time again. Though as Shelly rightly points out “the practices must be individualized to meet the unique needs of the person.” Telling people to take big, deep breaths, may not be ‘the answer’ or ‘the fix’ for everyone which is often what I see out in the main stream media. Suggesting there is some kind of ‘ideal’ breath, for all people, at all times.
I was looking at this tree (pictured above) in my back yard at lunch time today. It sways and flows. Appears strong, yet supple. Not rigid, brittle, tight or constricted. Takes in nourishment, gives back some. Might we be like this tree … A breath in. A breath out. Responding as need be, in any given moment to what life is asking of us.
I’ll be diving into this in more detail with information, a little bit of research and experiential practices in Week 4 of my upcoming online ‘Creating New Pathways‘ course. Want to learn more?
Interested to learn more about this thing called ‘yoga therapy’? Some FAQ’s plus links for ways yoga therapy can help, information for healthcare providers, where we’re at in terms of current research and yoga, yoga therapy.
I was having a discussion with a client this week about the breath and how we breathe. We were talking about the relationship between our body, our breath and how breath moves in relationship to gravity. The forces of gravity, the loads we feel.
Breath awareness is often a focus in yoga. Both in yoga classes and also in a more therapeutic practice of yoga. We spend a lot of time noticing breath, feeling the breath as it moves. Noticing the length of breath, the inhales, the exhales. Where we feel the breath move, in our body.
Taking a different path, perhaps we can explore how breath might not always be moving, or moving so well. As in when you’re holding your breath. Which you might not readily notice throughout the day, unless you pay attention to it.
The basis of this inquiry is from Donna Farhi’s The Breathing Book (highly recommend the book). She states the purpose of the inquiry being:
To identify the situations and activities in which you most commonly engage in breath holding. We don’t usually recognize how much tension we invest in simple activities such as talking or cooking because we don’t recognize the situation as terribly stressful. You may be surprised and disconcerted to discover that you hold your breath in almost every conceivable situation.
Let’s check this out.
Starting today and for the rest of this week, take notice of when you hold your breath.What you’re doing when you hold your breath. Where you are, who you’re with. Make a mental note, or actually write it down so you don’t forget.
You may notice it when you’re speaking on the phone with someone. Perhaps your boss. Or you may notice it when you’re leaning over to make your bed. Or you may notice you hold your breath when your attention is really focused on something, like when driving down busy streets.
Then, you might want to see if you can change it in some way. Just breathe a little more freely if you can. Try not to judge anything, just notice.
I’ve noticed this pattern of breath holding in myself, particularly, in these days. Before I started wearing a mask I would sometimes catch myself holding my breath as I walked by someone. Or when I felt they were standing too near to me. I suspect there was some fear involved in my response. It’s like I didn’t want to take breath in, at that moment.
We’ll do more specific explorations, next week. And maybe get a little curious about how this might affect or influence pain.
Check back with me on Monday (June 29th) for more. In the meantime, keep noticing.
A half hour in a dentist chair or a 6 hour drive. Both feel about the same to me.
Why might that be?
Though dentist chairs these days are made to be pretty comfortable, the tension, breath holding that goes on there, remains. At least for me, it does.
A 6 hour drive? Well, though probably not tense I sure can’t move around very much. And for someone with really long legs the cramped space and low seat really does me in.
Now imagine you’re at work, sitting with your laptop in front of you, working on a project that has you so engaged you don’t notice how 4 hours has passed. Or maybe 6 hours. Since you … literally … moved. When you do finally move or stand up your back, neck and shoulders are complaining. A whole lot. You might say to yourself, “ach, this back. Acting up again. When will this pain go away? Probably never. It’s always there, always going to get worse as the years go by.”
Or a similar scenario, but maybe your supervisor is breathing down your back. “Get me those numbers! Why aren’t you finished already? You know how important this is… why is it taking you so long?” I can well imagine those back, neck, shoulder muscles are having a say in how you’re feeling throughout your day, as well.
You might even find it hard to breathe at times. Do you even notice that happening?
What stresses might you have in a day? Why do we call it stress, anyways? Might it be this ‘stresses’ your body, as well as your mind?
What are those little niggly things creating sensations in your body that you’re not really aware of? Not listening to. Paying attention to.
Maybe it’s not the tension, tightness, pucker, hold-your-breath, kind of stress.
It might be more subtle. The slight contraction of your jaw muscles. Shoulders lifting ever so slightly as the minutes are tick, tick, tick, moving along. The gripping of your toes, or perhaps your butt muscles.
What consequences might these create in your body over long – periods – of – time?
This is not to say that all stress is bad. We need to stress the body. That’s why people hit the gym, run for miles on end, love – love – love a sweaty yoga class. Stress can be a good thing. Create a good feeling.
What we don’t want however, is the long – slow – drip by drip – neverending – periods – of – stress.
I bet you notice the BIG periods of stress in your life. Maybe what’s happening right now, for instance. The little, or more subtle ones? Likely not so much.
And if we begin to notice, what might we do to move out of this stress state? Do we have the flexibility, variability to do so?
Repeat. Over and over.
Can we shift, from one state to another? Might we even begin to notice our ‘state of being’?
Difficult. Maybe if we slow down, find some stillness, time or space. Find that pause.
A 4-week Workshop to notice what’s ‘Just Right, For You’.
Well, much like anything, it depends. The answer is rarely straightforward and definitive.
As mentioned in the last post everyone comes in with their own experience of pain, history, individual, unique life circumstances. What might be helpful for one, will not likely be the same for another.
Below are a few comments made during a recent class, which illustrates this difference, for each person.
“I slept so much better all last week.”
“I’m not really using my cane anymore. My leg feels stronger, and I have no pain.”
“My back went out last week for a couple of days. I was flat on my back, so I used one of the (breath-awareness-distraction) practices and it really helped me get through it.”
And your back now? – Me
“It’s fine, now.”
“I’m so surprised. Normally I cannot walk around without my shoes on.”
Did you feel pain, while we were doing this (walking exploration, practice)? – Me
“No, I had no pain at all.”
I can’t say what will happen for you, or for another. Most often though, people will begin to experience feelings of calm, safety, less or no pain during class. And, some will begin to transition those responses and feelings into their daily lives.
Like most things in life, what we do, what we practice, we get better at. I would say the same, in this case. If you only practice during our class, for an hour a week, you may not see as much progress, notice as much difference. However, if you do a little, each day, I bet your experience will be similar to these others.
What I highlight to people, from both their comments and experiences is that something changed. To get curious about that, and realize they created the change.
It wasn’t something done to them.
From there, they begin to feel some hope. Perhaps a little empowered and more able to start exploring and learn to self-manage or resolve their persistent pain.
The second question people often ask me about Pain Care Yoga classes, after “who is it that comes to these classes” described here, is “what do you do in them”?
Pain is never just about one thing. You want to know what’s wrong. How you’re going to fix it. And how long it’s going to take. And rightly so, as having long-term pain often changes everything for you and how you live your life.
When it comes to pain, however, it is usually not that simple which is why searching for ‘the thing‘ usually doesn’t work in the long-term. Particularly if you’ve had pain for a long time. Which doesn’t mean to say that it can’t change. It can. We know what can help to bring about change, the best practices research points to.
Two key aspects, education … and movement, are important. So that’s what we do in these classes.
Some kind of education piece, usually at the start of the class, is provided. I only spend a few minutes on this, but it’s important to do so. One of the most common things I see with people in pain is the fear of moving. If I can help you to understand why it might be safe to move and why it’s important to do so, that’s a good place to begin.
“Current evidence supports the use of pain neuroscience education (PNE) for chronic musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders in reducing pain and improving patient knowledge of pain, improving function and lowering disability, reducing psychosocial factors, enhancing movement, and minimizing healthcare utilization.” 
Then, you practice. You get to experience how you might move, with guidance and guidelines, to learn what’s right for you. Which often won’t be the same as others in the room.
This is not a typical yoga class with sun salutations, downward dogs, lunges, forward folds, backbends. It is not even what I would call a ‘gentle yoga class’. Yes, we use slow, gentle movements. Yet, sometimes you might begin by just imagining the movement if you don’t yet feel safe to do it. Or you might practice it in your mind, plan out how you might go about it and if it feels right for you. It is always your choice to do or not do anything presented in class. You always get to decide how to move, how far to move, by using a slow, mindful exploration along with guidelines and principles utilized.
Most movements are fairly simple and modifications are always available. You’ll experience a lot of repetition, and rhythmic movements. Movements that cross the midline of the body. Movements that challenge your brain as well as challenging your body. You, anyone, can really begin wherever you’re at. With what’s right for you.
There will always be some kind of breathwork or a breath awareness piece in the practice. Again, it’s not so much about controlling the breath, rather what you might notice about your breath. How breath can be an indicator of your physical and emotional state at any given time. Also, learning how breath can help to bring about change to your nervous system, physiology, which can then change your experience of pain.
Like breath, awareness is key. So often when you are in pain the last thing you want to do is pay more attention to your body. But in fact, this paying attention is your guide to changing pain. It is in this noticing that you can begin to explore what the signals (or sensations) you feel might be indicating, what might be your unique contributors to pain, what might be the reasons for flare-ups. This practice is not only about noticing your body in class but then also paying attention to your whole self in your environment, in the larger world you live in.
There are many reasons, purposes and benefits to practice relaxation techniques. In most yoga classes this is done at the end of class. Though we’ll also do some kind of formal relaxation practice at the end, relaxation or creating a state of calm is facilitated right from the start.
It is when you are in a place of safety, when you are calm and relaxed, that change is likely to occur. It is this place of calm (a parasympathetic state) when you might first experience a change in your pain. Without this, it’s no different than trying to stretch, exercise, push through and strengthen your pain away, which seems not to work out so well.
If you’re interested in learning more, have any questions or would like to sign up for the next series of classes starting at the end of February, please get in touch here. I’d love for you to experience, how you might learn to change your pain. Or, if you prefer a one-to-one session, information can be found here.
 Adriaan Louw, Kory Zimney, Emilio J. Puentedura & Ina Diener(2016)The efficacy of pain neuroscience education on musculoskeletal pain: A systematic review of the literature,Physiotherapy Theory and Practice,32:5,332-355,DOI: 10.1080/09593985.2016.1194646
Unhelpful beliefs about LBP are associated with greater levels of pain, disability, work absenteeism, medication use and healthcare seeking. Unhelpful beliefs are common in people with and without LBP, and can be reinforced by the media, industry groups and well-meaning clinicians.”
The purpose of the editorial (made free due to popular demand, read it here) and the infographic is to “identify 10 common unhelpful beliefs about LBP and outline how they may influence behavioral and psychological responses with pain”.
The authors are also “calling on clinicians to incorporate these into their interactions with patients.”
This is so important. It’s why I always include a touch of education and information as part of my Pain Care Yoga classes. When people are in pain, it’s difficult to understand why it might be safe to move, how important it is to move and how movement “doesn’t mean you are doing harm – FACT #5”.
I hope these FACTS will bring some curiosity to your beliefs. I hope you might consider what you believe and how they might influence your experience of pain, either positively or negatively.
Sometimes, however, information is not enough. I, we, can give you all the ‘FACTS’ but often until you experience that you CAN move without pain it’s difficult to change beliefs.
As called for in the editorial, I am personally committed to bringing evidence-informed information and education to the people I work with and hope to provide a new experience to get you moving again, with confidence.
Foster NE, Anema JR, Cherkin D, et al. Prevention and treatment of low back pain: evidence, challenges, and promising directions. The Lancet 2018;391:2368-83.
Buchbinder R, van Tulder M, Oberg B, et al. Low back pain: a call for action. The Lancet 2018;391:2384-8.
Like many people my age, we’re not looking so much to get more stuff. Rather, we’re hoping in some small way, we might make a contribution. Help others.
What does this mean for you?
Here’s the thing,
Do you suffer from persistent or chronic pain? Or know someone else who does? Are you tired of finding only short-term relief from pain?
Most people think that pain is inevitable as we age. I used to think so. Now, I know that pain can change. I see it all the time in the people I work with. Science, also tells us this is true. You can learn a bit about my own story of pain and how it changed a little later, but first here’s the deal FOR YOU!
Starting today November 25th until December 2nd,receive 30-40% off my regular pricing.See how you might change what is getting in your way, limiting your life, the contributing factors to your experience of pain. Check this out!
$58 for an initial 90-min session (approx. 40% discount) if you book this week!
$58 for a follow-up 60-min session (approx. 30% discount) if you book this week! (All appointments to be scheduled between Nov 25th, 2019 and Jan 15th, 2020)
Book your first 90-minute session for $58 (regular price is $95)
Book a follow-up 60-minute session for $58 (regular price is $85)
Book a package of 4 sessions, 1-90 min and 3-60 minutes for $280 (regular price is $335)
BONUS:You’ll also receive a FREE audio recording of a slow, guided awareness practice. With the usual busy, stressful holiday season soon upon us, this can be used for relaxation, to help guide you into to sleep or rest or just notice what you feel, what you might need on any given day.
GIVE BACK:I will donate $5 to *Chrysalis House for each session booked, whether a first or follow-up session. Chrysalis House provides a safe and secure shelter to aid in helping and support those affected by domestic violence. Which tends to escalate around the holiday season. Together, helping others.
Email me at email@example.com or you can contact me here to book a session or for further information. To learn more about individual sessions, click here.
NEW LOCATION: I have a new location for my private 1-to-1 sessions. Various opportunities presented themselves but when I heard about this space called “Comfort Corner” it sounded just right. Thanks to my local community for providing all the leads and contacts in/around the West Ottawa area when I went looking for recommendations. People helping people.
Pain is surely complex. Which is why looking for the ‘thing’ to ‘fix it’ usually doesn’t work.
You truly are unique. Each person I work with comes from a unique background with unique experience and their own history, body, circumstances and environment. We’ll work together in partnership to
explore what might be contributors to your pain,
how you might change things up,
create new patterns of moving without pain,
learn to move with more ease,
experience how YOU CAN modulate your pain
My goal is to help you learn to ‘be your own best resource’. So you don’t have to rely forever upon me, or other health care professionals. You’ll have the tools, resources, information and practices to help you through the inevitable journey of life’s ups and downs. To live a meaningful and purposeful life, no matter your situation or condition of health.
I would love to work with you!
Group Classes are helpful for chronic pain but this 1-to-1 work can make all the difference. Why not see if it’s right for you? Or if you have family, friends or colleagues who you think might benefit, please share with them as well.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can contact me here to book a session or for further information. To learn more about individual sessions, click here.
*Chrysalis House is a safe and secure 25-bed shelter in Western Ottawa. It is a place where a woman can go to protect herself and her dependants from violence and abuse. In this supportive environment, a woman can focus on her personal needs and choices, as well as on her dependants’ needs.
 Louw, Adriaan & Zimney, Kory & Puentedura, Emilio & Diener, Ina. (2016). The efficacy of pain neuroscience education on musculoskeletal pain: A systematic review of the literature. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. 32. 1-24. 10.1080/09593985.2016.1194646.
Often, when someone has persistent or chronic pain, what’s almost forgotten amidst the assessments, tests, diagnosis, and treatments, is the person. This person is not just a body with all these parts. Rather, someone who has a unique story, history, perspective and perception about what is happening with them. How pain affects almost every aspect of their life. Their worries, concerns, uncertainty about the future.
The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) launched it’s Global Alliance of Pain Patient Advocates in 2018, stating “this initiative seeks to better integrate the patient voice to inform pain research and its translation into new interventions to treat pain.” Below, Joletta Belton, tells her story:
I’ve been following Joletta for a long while now. Not only an advocator for the person in pain, she writes a blog over at mycuppajo, and co-founded Endless Possibilities Initiative (EPIc), which is a “nonprofit organization intent on changing the way people get access to science-based information about pain.”
She writes “My protective responses not only affected my breath, but my movement too. My muscles would tense up, my joints would become stiff, my movement braced and rigid. Being rigid and stiff affected the way I moved, the way I walked, the way I sat. The way I existed in the world. The tenser and more guarded I was, the more pain there was, so I started moving less. The less I moved, the more painful movement became. Fear of more pain, of more damage, made me move even less. A vicious cycle.”
She goes on to share what helped her most over the years. The first two, on her list:
“feeling heard and believed, supported and empowered
feeling understood, as well as understanding and making sense of my pain.”
“When we live with pain, it changes who we are as people. It changes how we see the world and how we relate to that world. We protect ourselves through isolation and withdrawal, through guarding and tension, through altered thoughts, beliefs, and movements. We disconnect from the people, places and activities that are meaningful to us.”
“It is hard.”
In her conclusion, she also goes on to say “… I want you to know it takes hard work to get out of those dark places, too. I want you to know that change is possible, but it’s not easy. It takes time and persistence, compassion and courage. … there is so much that is possible, so much that can be done, no matter how long someone has lived with pain, no matter how many limitations they may have.”
Jolette also recently contributed, wrote, the first chapter in the Meanings of Pain, Volume 2, released last month. The interdisciplinary book – the second in the three-volume Meanings of Pain series edited by Dr Simon van Rysewyk “aims to better understand pain by describing experiences of pain and the meanings these experiences hold for the people living through them”.
In my work as a yoga therapist and Pain Care Yoga teacher, probably the most important part of my work is to listen to what the person in front of me is saying about their pain, their story, their life. Provide safety and support, work to empower the person in pain as they might learn to move, breathe and renew their own sense of meaning and purpose in the world.
If you are someone who suffers from chronic pain, know that there are people out there willing to listen. There is hope. Your pain CAN change.
Let’s all continue to advocate for, educate and push for more services and support for the 1 in 5 Canadians who need it most. Each and every person, in pain.